The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 24th of May 2008.
Saturday the 24th

We had a fun day today, receiving a number of emails from people who'd listened to our interview piece on Radio NZ National's Country Life last night or this morning. (The audio on that link works well enough over a moderate-speed dial-up connection.)

It struck me in reading and answering that correspondence that the radio programme is, as journalist Susan Murray indicated when she was here, one listened to by a lot of urban-dwelling people. I've always enjoyed it because it's a bit of rural life reflected back to us, and a way of keeping up with farming conditions around the rest of the country on a regular basis; but I hadn't really thought of it being of so much interest to those who aren't in the countryside. Many of my correspondents prove that in those New Zealanders of my generation and older, nearly everyone has a direct link back to rural life, whether it was in growing up on a farm, or having a relative with whom they used to go and stay during school holidays. The following generations are losing those links as the balance between city and country-dwellers changes and we are no longer a mostly-rural nation.

Sunday the 25th

Cold, cold, really cold. I'm quite sure it's not usually this cold in May.

Monday the 26th
cows in the sunshine

Yesterday being so cold, I didn't go out and look at the cows, because I couldn't offer them anything other than what and where they already had to eat.

This morning I found them all sitting in the warm sunshine, looking quite content and not in a big hurry to move to the next paddock.

I haven't just acquired two new pale-faced cows: those are Isla, sitting, and her sister Imagen standing in the foreground, both having obviously had a lovely time rubbing their heads in a clay bank somewhere.

moving the young cattle

This is the young mob coming out of the Back Barn paddock, down the lane by the river, from where they went into the PW. (That's the PWTHWTSFI - Paddock With Two Holes Which Three Steers Fell In, which probably now needs an addition to acknowledge Ivy's topple down the hill. It'll still be the PW.)

There are 47 head in this mob.

cemetery grazing

The young cattle all wandered along the bottom of the paddock while I went back to close the gates into the paddock they'd left. I was a little concerned about their reaction to being back in the paddock where Ivy fell, because she continues to lie in state within her electric tape enclosure.

By the time I reached them, they'd been to the gate at the end and were wandering back again, some looking curiously toward Ivy, but none showing any particular interest or concern.

There is no legal requirement to bury or otherwise dispose of Ivy; she is away from any water course, there are no neighbours to be annoyed by the smell, and we would have to dig a hole by hand because the tractor is in need of repair. Holes for cows need to be rather large and we'd need to drag her somewhere to bury her and putting all those factors together, I am happier that she stays where she is until such time as I can move her reduced remains to somewhere appropriate.

In the mean time I walk by her quite often and it is perhaps like attending an extended funeral, where the body of the deceased is present and available to the mourners for last communications. I have long felt that such opportunities in death are enormously helpful to the bereaved. I am not sure how helpful it will be to draw this out so far, but having spent several winters worrying about what to do about Ivy, how to keep her adequately fed and healthy, it is hard to change gear and stop worrying about her. Seeing her dead brings with it a great sense of peace, as those concerns no longer matter.

It is not my intention to appear ghoulish, but for me death and the transition from life to death is a topic of ongoing contemplation. Throughout my childhood for some reason I lived in fear that one day my Father would die and I could not go on without his presence in the world. He did eventually die, I am still here, but I find it hard to come to terms with the fact that some people stop and the rest of us go on. To taint the present with a constant, overriding fear of loss in the future, is futile, but something I have, for some reason, always done. Ivy's death brings that particular fear to the fore in that here is Isla's mother, dead, and Isla is my most favourite animal and I know that it is more likely than not that I shall have to face her death at some time in the next decade. I do not wish to continue living with that childhood fear which has, as such fears often do, slipped into my adult life as well and is not just about cows. If walking past a decomposing well-loved ex-cow keeps me thinking and working through a personal change of approach to the world, that's alright.

I don't like death in farming, but I do appreciate the opportunities it provides to work my way through my various responses to it. They are after all, some of the same basic responses any of us have to death in the human world, but without a lot of the complications attendant on the loss of another person.

If anyone would like to make an appointment to see my dead-cow therapist...

Athena calling her mother, Isla

Athena, Isla's daughter, went all the way to the bottom corner of the paddock and started yelling for her mother, who eventually answered her from where I'd left the cows sitting in the sun earlier in my walk.

Isla hasn't had a daughter for some years. Her first, Abigail, is nearly seven and we didn't keep Amelia, the following calf, and the next four were bulls.

Athena's an impressive-looking calf, just six months old and a very solid and fast-growing animal - although this particular photo doesn't do her many favours.

Jill and Bruce arrived at around 5pm, with the makings of a marvellous dinner to celebrate Stephan's birthday. We had Scallops Pampolaise, Armenian Lamb with Pilaf followed by Crème Brûlée. Jill and Bruce gave Stephan a little flame-thrower device with which to caramelise the sugar on top of the Crème Brûlée, so I didn't have to do it under the grill. What a wonderful feast!

Wednesday the 28th
stock truck

After selling a bull on trademe a few weeks ago, he finally got a ride to his new home today.

Stephan went out and brought the four bulls in while I set up the gates out at the yards and the bull walked quietly up onto the truck and went on his way. He had to wait for some time at Kaikohe during the weekly sale there, before catching his next truck to his new home somewhere near Whangarei, where he was apparently very well received.

This is a bit of free advertising for Stu's trucking firm. Perhaps he'll send me a bottle of wine.

new electric out-rigger wire

After the mob of 37 animals went for a run up the road the other week, we thought we'd better do something to make the paddock over the road more secure. The whole boundary of the paddock is in need of replacement, but because the fenceline which marks the boundary with the next property over the hill was put on the wrong lines some decades ago, we want to get that sorted out before we go ahead. In the mean time, Stephan is attaching a hot-wire to the old fence, and tidying up some obvious weak points.

One of those weak points is at the top of this bank, where the fence had fallen over completely. Fortunately none of the cattle have ever gone over the edge, since it's a drop of some twenty feet (about six or seven metres) to the road below. Other parts of the fence are loose and a determined animal could walk through, as has sometimes happened over the last few years.

fencing fencing

In the photo on the left I was standing on the road, looking up at Stephan digging the strainer post hole. On the right, the hole is dug to the required depth, with an extra space cut in at the bottom of the hole, to receive the foot which is attached to the bottom of the post - a notch is cut in the post and the foot wired in place, then it is wedged into the bottom of the hole to prevent the strainer lifting. The wire will eventually corrode away, but the notch in the post will enable it to continue to hold the strainer where it should be. Stephan then put in a couple of stays in the directions of the strain on the fence for which this strainer forms the corner.

cattle in the river

Most of the young mob were down the bottom of the PW this afternoon, so I took them to the yards to draft out the pregnant R2 heifers. These are the youngsters on their way back out to the paddock, having a drink - or is that a swim? - in the river crossing.

I was very pleased to observe 561 standing to be ridden by one of the older on-heat heifers. I wasn't expecting 561 to cycle again this early, but they are often somewhat unreliable in timing when young, and at least she's definitely not in calf to the little bulls.

Thursday the 29th
cattle over the road

How to do a cow count without trekking up the hill: I took this photo from the flats as I was coming back from a walk out to move some of the cattle at the back of the farm. With an 8x zoom capability, I knew that I'd be able to count the cattle more easily on a photo on the computer screen when I got home, than I could clearly see them with my eyes which are not as sharp as they once were.

Yesterday, after drafting the pregnant heifers from the young mob, I went back and got the four pregnant R3 heifers out of the weaned cow mob and put the two lots together. When Jane went out to collect her mail she helped me put them across the road, so there are the nineteen of them in the sunshine this afternoon. These sunny days are a delight.

Over the last ten days I've been trying to help a Nelson woman to rehome a female Paradise Duck. Carole first contacted me at the end of November 2006 when she found three ducklings on the road with their squashed siblings and rescued them from certain death. She managed to raise all three to adulthood and the female had been away and returned again and was now causing some difficulty in the semi-urban surroundings because of the amount of noise she naturally makes. We attempted to find another home for her somewhere in the area, but the problem with that potential solution was that it was highly likely the duck would simply go back to Carole. In the end Carole arranged to fly her up to us - and apparently this was not the first time Air New Zealand have transported a Paradise Duck around the country.

It wasn't an enormously costly exercise, the duck travelling in a carry-cage of the size which would be used to transport a large cat, in which she had room enough to move around comfortably. She was put on a 2.30pm flight from Nelson, had an hour's wait in Auckland and then the 50 minute flight to Kaitaia this evening.

We headed off to town, stopped in for a pleasant bit of refreshment with my lovely Godfather and then received a phone message from Serge at the airport, saying he had a duck there with our name on it - I hadn't been quite sure what time the plane was to arrive, but we were only five minutes away by then. To the amusement of the airport staff, the pilots and some friends who happened to be there too, we took possession of Mary the duck and brought her home.

Friday the 30th
Mary Putangitangi

Mary, caged for the time being, until she orients herself to her new home - I don't know if that will be successful or not, but we're hopeful.

I will keep her caged for a couple of weeks, then we'll let her out. Hopefully at that stage she'll hang around here, but she may just fly away. Duck shooting season for her species lasts until the 10th of August, which is far too long to keep her captive.

So far she's not making any noise and isn't very happy in the cage, but she has room to stretch and flap her wings, water to drink and bathe in and the food she's accustomed to eating, so I hope she'll settle in the next day or so.

Several weeks ago I sold a couple of the heifer calves to Kim and Paul from Kawakawa and we've waited and made phone calls and kept waiting and at last, early this morning, the two calves were collected and taken to their new home.

Later in the day I brought the rest of the young mob in and weighed them, then drafted nine calves out of the mob and sent the rest back to the paddock. When Stephan came back from fencing, we put secondary tags in the ears of the heifer calves which had not yet been done and the calves spent the night in the driveway area, ready to go to their new home, 500m along the road, tomorrow.

I have some concern about how much grass isn't growing. Calculations with this month's temperature readings indicate that the daily maximum average temperature is almost two degrees lower than usual. After chewing down the Kikuyu, we usually have a bit of nicely mild weather to encourage the other species to come up into the light, but if they're doing anything, it's very slow. I suspect we might still have a few too many animals to feed through what looks likely to be a long tough winter.